|What has become known around the Ricks College campus as "The Announcement" about "The Transition" was heard by all employees and faculty early on the morning of Tuesday, June 21. Everyone at Ricks had received a phone call late Monday night telling us we had a meeting early the next morning that "would affect all of us and the very future of Ricks College."
It reminded me of those natural disaster drills the Elders Quorum occasionally organizes, where everyone in the ward gets a call from their home teacher within ten minutes of the call originated by the stake president. I was told specifically to bring my tape recorder.
President Hinckley’s announcement regarding the transition of Ricks College to a four-year institution called BYU–Idaho came as a surprise to most everyone, including the president of the college.
In his response just minutes following the morning press conference President David A. Bednar said, "I would have been less surprised if the announcement would have been that the school would be closed. Those of you who have been here many, many years know that we are well-versed and well schooled in articulating all the reasons why Ricks College would not become a four-year school. And we have all just changed our minds very quickly."
A few comments I heard throughout the rest of that week caused me to think of scriptural analogies about wheat, chaff, goats and sheep. Some of what I heard saddened me. But by the next Monday I was amazed at the resurgence of faithful support I witnessed. Overwhelmingly the good people of Ricks College, the very people whose career it is to foster the Spirit of Ricks, rallied in support of President Hinckley as Prophet and as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Ricks College. It gives me hope for an even brighter future at this institution and for the worldwide Church.
Probably those who have had the most difficult time are those rooted in Ricks College intercollegiate athletics. At the time of The Announcement I wondered about them. Actually, some of the comments and feelings I have heard from them over the last few months have turned out to be the most inspiring to me. One statement seems to capture what many have said, "It’s a bitter pill, but we know who administered it and we will swallow it."
President Bednar has, for obvious reasons, recently quoted the following statement made in Neal A. Maxwell’s book, Things As They Really Are: There are, or will be, moments when prophetic declarations collide with our pride or our seeming personal interests. We must be like President Marion G. Romney, who humbly said, ". . . I have never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, and political life."
What a wonderful opportunity we, as alumni and friends, have to exercise our faith in the inspired leadership of this, one of four, Church-sponsored schools. While it affects significant aspects of the lives of the approximately 1000 current Ricks College employees and faculty (and their families), it is a chance for everyone to look inside themselves and consider what their reaction will be when other even more significant announcements come which will affect the Church as a whole.
So what are alumni and friends saying?
The day after The Announcement Norrine Parkinson, a great granddaughter of Thomas E. Ricks, called the Development Office. She said, "I can’t see why they are taking away my grandfather’s name after all these years. And if they really do, I am not going to give any more money to the college. BYU–Idaho… yuck."
Norrine later reflected, "I was kind of mean when I called. Then I thought about it and decided they probably didn’t have any control over it, that it had come from the General Authorities. So I figured I’d better change my ways."
A few weeks after that initial call Norrine called again. She recalls, "I told them I had repented and that I would keep giving, that when I first called I had just thought it was not quite nice. I still think changing the name isn’t very nice, but I don’t know that it really bothers my great-grandfather or not. I do know where the idea came from though, and I’m sure President Bednar will do a fine job with what he’s been told to do."
I asked what she would say to other donors who may be struggling with The Announcement, to which she responded, "Are some of them still struggling? Well, I would say that it really doesn’t do you any good to have bad feelings about something. You are only hurting yourself, so shape up!"
Norrine is one of many donors who continue to be anxiously engaged in literally accelerating what the Board of Trustees has approved for the ongoing direction of Ricks College.
I recently interviewed several other individuals and couples who have been strong supporters of Ricks College to hear their thoughts and feelings about the current transition to BYU–Idaho. Their responses were refreshing.
Three of David and Valerie Johnson’s eleven children are Ricks College alumni. They are from Pasco, a city in eastern Washington state, and have given generously in support of Ricks in the past.
Regarding The Announcement, David said, "It doesn’t seem that long ago that I heard President Bednar explain very convincingly why Ricks would never become a four-year school. So, when I first heard the announcement the first thing that came to my mind was wondering what the president must be thinking."
"I also wondered if Ricks would become more like BYU—which isn’t necessarily bad—but on the other hand, I do like the more intimate and personal attention that seems to be common at Ricks. And, Ricks is an old school with a rich heritage of its own. You know, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s like big business absorbing other companies and just everything getting big. I thought, ‘wow, we’ve already got something here that is pretty good on its own.’ But, I trust President Hinckley of course, and I guess if it’s good enough for him, it will be good enough for me."
Valerie interjected and said, "I was actually thinking something very different when I heard the announcement. I was thinking that having it be a four year college would allow more people to be able to come. At least that’s what I understand will happen: the schedules would be made so that kids would be going spring, summer, winter, fall—all year ‘round. And so my first thought was about more kids being able to take advantage of it."
"Plus," she said, "it will be also good for them not to have to transfer to another college. They can stay there the whole time and not worry about their credits transferring. They can stay there and concentrate on just getting their education, and not have to worry about where they’re going next. I think there are actually a lot of advantages."
David agreed, adding that they would continue supporting a place they felt would affect even more lives for the better. "Basically, we’ve been very blessed in the business we’ve been building, and so we decided awhile back to give some extra.’"
Valerie added, "Kids are so important! And education is important. And we wanted to make a difference in the world and in society, and so we thought that education would be a good place to put some extra money, because that does go to the future. It goes to help kids, and we think that’s good."
"And at Ricks it’s not just education," David said, "It’s the Spirit there; being able to associate with people in a way that you only can there. You know, the whole experience—if they have a testimony when they go, it will get stronger; if they don’t, they could gain one. It could change their whole destiny; it’s kind of fun thinking about that. We’re dealing with the most important thing there is, human beings, and helping them be better. You know, that’s our Heavenly Father’s business. And, you could say, it was our chance to participate in His business—the people business."
Lee and Shirley Carlson own a real estate business in Denver, Colorado, have a grandson who is a Ricks alumnus, and have enjoyed taking the opportunity to help the college.
Remembering their first visit to campus, Lee said, "We toured the college, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by the campus itself, but so impressed with the friendliness. People walking down the sidewalk or hallway would actually acknowledge us and say ‘hi.’"
Shirley added, "I thought the kids looked happy, contented, wholesome—all those things that you want for your children and grandchildren as they try to get an education."
"Education is so important in my mind," said Lee. "And at Ricks kids have the opportunity of taking advantage of the tutoring program and everything else while they are getting their education."
Shirley adds, "Ricks is such a good foundation for advanced education. I think the maturity level of kids coming out of high school is certainly diverse, and some are just not ready for larger universities; they need to be in a smaller setting, and Ricks prepares them that way. It’s a little added advantage—a place to mature while actually in a college."
"We’re glad to be giving to a place that can do those things for kids," she continues. "Unfortunately, I think a lot of people think they can’t give. They think you can only give in large sums of money, which is not necessarily true. I’m afraid people allow themselves to get tunnel vision. We think of our ward, our stake, our family and our relatives. We don’t get much farther than that. It’s so important to go out and do things for people through organizations or a university or for a college like Ricks."
"As for the BYU–Idaho thing," said Lee, "I believe the General Authorities have access to information concerning Ricks, the other schools and institutes of religion, and how successful they are with our youth. Compare making changes to Ricks to that of creating a whole new school. I know they know what they’re doing so I don’t question. Even if I did have a few reservations, I would accept it."
Ray and Eleanor Jones are from Pleasant View, Utah and have been friends of Ricks College for many years. Ray worked for Interpace Brick which actually provided the familiarly colored brick for many of the buildings on campus. He described visiting campus recently, "I was surprised at how much had changed in the last several years. It’s always so good to be there though. It’s a good feeling."
While he does have a unique tie to some of the buildings on campus, he said, "When I look at the buildings, I mostly think of what goes on inside them."
The Joneses chose to help Ricks College because they wanted to give a gift to the Church and knew all the good that takes place at Ricks. Eleanor said, "I know the affect it has on young people who go there. They come away changed for the better. Some of them even find the one they’ll marry when they are there."
As for the changes taking place at Ricks, Ray said, "Well, it’s too bad about the athletics but if that’s what the prophet thinks is best then that’s what they should do."
"It’s not going to be without its pain," said Wayne Perry, a successful businessman and enthusiastic supporter of Ricks College from Seattle, Washington.
"I’ve merged companies before and even when it was ultimately the better thing, there are some traumatic moments. But invariably it can also be very good. And I think in this case it is good. Even though the "Ricks" name is not preserved (in the "merger" if you will), I think the Ricks identity will be preserved by those who feel so strongly about it."
"No one has ever said that going to Ricks is not a fabulous experience. That’s a given. But in today’s world that’s not enough. It’s just too hard to get into that first job without a good, recognizable degree and a good currency. And I think the Church just enabled the currency to increase."
"You know, they’ve got that currency on the front end of the new name, but they also keep the individuality. Alumni are going to feel proud on both ends of the equation—on both sides of the hyphen they’re going to be winners. So the institution and the graduates of it win on all fronts."
"The students who now come and it’s BYU–Idaho will have this wonderful experience and they’re going to be very pleased. And they’re still going to say, ‘Man, what a wonderful place.’"
Wayne went on to say, "You get a lot of people who go on to BYU and they love the fact that they got a chance to go, but they really miss that closeness that they had at Ricks.
"That’s a pretty powerful endorsement. If you’re selling a consumer product and get those kinds of consumer loyalties, you can charge a premium for that. In the business world, that’s a good thing. The good thing about Ricks is that the leadership is there and the students appear to be embracing the direction of the leadership."
He concluded, "It’s the experience there; it really is."
In all the talk and various reactions to The Announcement I have now heard, I have found that the further from Rexburg I got, the less personal individuals were taking it. Overwhelmingly though, the underlying feelings among alumni and friends are those of trust in the leadership and of hope that we don’t lose all Ricks College has become over the years.
We are thinking about current students . . . aren’t we?
As alumni and friends of this wonderfully unique and life-changing place of learning we now have the opportunity to pull together in support of today’s students—the future alumni of BYU–Idaho. It is still about them.
No change to Ricks College will take away the memories and personal experiences that we, as alumni, have to look back on with fondness and a smile. And we have the privilege to join President Hinckley in looking to the future by helping to provide current students with not only similar experiences to those we had, but to give them even better opportunities. They will take from BYU–Idaho not only the cherished experiences that come from that "Spirit of Ricks," but also more prestige and value in a degree and a diploma that carries extensive worldwide recognition.
President Bednar has said, "This change to four-year status is not about us. It is about the students. Do you think President Hinckley and the Board of Trustees do not know what they are doing by naming this institution BYU–Idaho? There is a recognition, a credibility, and an identity that goes with the name of Brigham Young University. I do not know exactly what they see; but just as President Kimball 26 years ago saw a greatly expanded missionary force, the Brethren today see an influence in the world of graduates of Brigham Young University—whether they come from Idaho, Laie, or Provo—that will have a huge impact in the world."
Talking about past inspiration and future promise.
At this time, the priorities approved by the Board (as outlined in "Staying on Course," Summit Magazine, Spring 2000, pages 22-27) remain primarily the same and are separate from those of BYU–Provo. The goals presented by the Ricks College administration to the Board prior to The Announcement are still the areas of focus for the sake of current and future students.
James R. Smyth, Administrative Vice President at Ricks College recently recounted hearing of the proposed announcement, "As I went down the list of matters we had underway in terms of administrative responsibilities and facility projects, with item after item after item, I saw how we were already poised to implement the announcement. I could not sense anything that would impede the change to four-year status. I could not find a situation where I felt we would have to put the machine, if you will, in reverse gear in order to get where we needed to go. That was a very sobering moment. My amazement has not diminished as the weeks have gone forward since that time. I am impressed anew each day with how much and in how many small details the hand of the Lord has been part of the process."
Regardless of what changes may come as a result of The Transition, the thing that stays constant is the eternal effect a warm, caring learning institution has on its students. You and I assist the leadership in moving forward the inspired goals and objectives at Ricks College.
Even more students can be helped and have their lives affected like the thousands of other alumni who now live around the world. But I imagine that with four-year degrees and the new requirements of building up a four-year institution, we will soon see an even greater need for more caring people—more alumni—to give even more. We will have to work with issues like an increase in students moving through the system, students staying twice as long, and a new wave of married students.
It all makes me think of something President Bednar has recently quoted from Elder Maxwell, "All of the easy things in the kingdom of God have already been achieved. From here on out it is high adventure!" (paraphrased from Neal A. Maxwell, Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, Deseret Book Company, 1977, p. 84)."
All alumni and friends need to understand how significant their support really is. And, that regardless of our newly identified association with BYU–Provo, as President Hinckley stated in his press conference, "BYU–Idaho’s move to four-year status will be phased in over a period of time and accomplished in such a way as to preserve the school’s autonomy and identity. Adjustments to its mission will be minimal. The school will have a unique role in and be distinctive from the other institutions of higher education within the Church Educational System."
This issue of Summit Magazine has a return envelope included for your convenience in sending what you can in support of the continuing goals of Ricks College. Alumni and friends like you continue to be vital to the accelerated progress of the innovations taking place at Ricks College.
As always, the students thank you, and we thank you.
Ricks College Development & Alumni Relations
1-800 22-ricks or 208 356-1128
220 Kimball Building
Rexburg, ID 83460-1655
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